Israel, Uncategorized

BDS: Reject or Reflect?

“Eliav, come back.  This is not either/or.  We need to talk through it.”  This is one of my more frequently-uttered sentences these days, as my 10-1/2 year old son grows up and hits those pre-teen years and a whole range of emotions and ideas that neither of us is really ready for.
My theory is that a kid’s age is basically an average.  Meaning that some days he seems more like 15; others, he’s still just an innocent and sweet 5 year-old.  If only I could tell which one it was on a given day.
[pullquote align=left] We should not be legislating how to think about difficult realities, nor should we be rejecting those who may take positions we disagree with and run away.
[/pullquote] So on those days when he’s feeling more like 15 but I am responding to the 5 year-old, we clash.  And that often results in him walking away when I have said something he doesn’t like or won’t agree with his ideas.   Or simply saying “Fine, I’ll do whatever you tell me to,” even when I have already started to see his side.
As he and I have discussed a few times, it comes down to both of us staying present in our hearts with something that is uncomfortable or unlikable, listening to what we may not like, and then being honest about it.  We may not always agree, I have tried to tell him, but we have to stay open and honest with each other long enough to understand the nuance of what the other person is saying and feeling – and why — and try to find something that can work.
It’s not foolproof, he is at an age when the world can seem so sharp, and he is bombarded with new ideas and emotions that he may want to reject.  So helping him to find a way instead to reflect and accept nuance, even if he doesn’t like the big picture, seems like a skill that will help him.  And probably something even we grown-ups could be reminded of now and again.
These moments with my son have been animating my reaction to BDS articles and are beginning to be a part of the way I am trying to talk to him about Israel and Palestine overall. [pullquote] For in a time and world that seems to be trying so hard to create sharp divisions, black and white contrasts between things that are “right” and “good for Israel,” and things that are “wrong” and focused on “hating Israel,” the future feels like it can only come from staying with the nuance of what we disagree with.
[/pullquote]  And not only in Israel, as this is something people are saying is what we need to do to combat racism in the United States.
As most readers will know, the BDS (boycott/divestment/sanctions) movement has worked for most of the past 10 years to bring about economic hardship to Israel and Israeli companies/organizations as a means of opposing and, its proponents hope, weakening the Occupation.  From academic boycotts to the effort to undermine popular brands like Soda Stream, the BDS movement has garnered increasing attention from all sides.
I do not intend here to debate the specifics of BDS, but to the extent it matters to some, I am not a BDS supporter.  But that fact or the reason why is really beside the point – the question for me is whether it deserves the nuance of reflection, like I have suggested to my son, or whether it is something to be rejected and walked away from entirely.
[pullquote] Those who reject BDS as a black-and-white issue tend to see any attempt to say negative things about Israel as a problem.
[/pullquote]And on that point, I believe it is a point for reflection, even as the mainstream tells us it is to be rejected.
In general, those who reject BDS as hateful and as a black-and-white issue tend to see any attempt to say negative things about Israel as a problem.  From that perspective, there can be little nuance held at all, let alone in the open.  On occasion, they will argue that such debates can be held “within the community,” but the idea that there is somehow an internal Jewish community debate on this topic that is capable of avoiding “the airing of dirty laundry” is specious, at best, in the Internet era.
In this perspective, any ideas, stories, and opinions that do not fit with the principle that Israel is to be supported at all costs are simply to be rejected.  And now not only rejected – legislated against.  So, as a result, President Obama signed provisions in to law recently that requires U.S. trade negotiators to make rejection of BDS a principal objective as they negotiate trade deals with the European Union.  This follows legislation in Illinois that prevents investment by state-controlled funds in companies that boycott Israel.  Other states are planning to do the same, and now it is fodder for questions of Hillary Clinton and other presidential candidates.
And in this bill, a company is “boycotting Israel” even if its boycott extends only to doing business in the Occupied Territories.  So, as you think about it, in attempting to reject BDS outright, advocates have now redefined the terms of the conflict, and international law.
What we have here is legislation against an effort to highlight an injustice and try to bring dignity to a specific group of people.  Even if we disagree with the tactic, it’s hard not to reflect on the juxtaposition of passing laws against BDS and what it means about protesting Israel when we are still struggling with voting rights and other elements of racial equality and dignity in the United States.
If recent debates about racial inequality and its legacy in the U.S. should teach us anything, it is that a healthier way to teach our kids to approach the question of BDS — and I think most things with which they may disagree — than rejection is reflection and engagement.  Push below specific tactics to understand the substance of the issue, to see if you can find something you can understand and discuss.  Then, before you start arguing, reflect.
So to quickly model that here, when you do that by seeking to understand BDS, you will learn a lot about the Occupation.  As you reflect on what is happening and what they are arguing, you may end up somewhere near the following categories:

  • The status quo of the Occupation must end, and BDS is the principal way to reach that goal.
  • The status quo of the Occupation must end, but BDS is not the way to achieve that goal.
  • The status quo of the Occupation should end at some point, but the onus is not on Israel to make that happen.
  • The status quo of the Occupation is acceptable.

All of us should reflect on these four categories, where we end up, and why others may end up elsewhere.   And perhaps the best thing we can demonstrate to our children on a topic like this is to show them the information BDS teaches, then explain why we put ourselves in a specific category in response, and what we do to act on our beliefs.
That is how we can best reflect on what challenges us. Let’s work to teach our children how to bring that mentality to BDS and the Occupation, how to stay with things that make them uncomfortable.
Maybe they can reflect solutions that our rejections have blinded us to.

6 thoughts on “BDS: Reject or Reflect?

  1. Suppose that you have a family member who is ill and there is an Israeli medication that could help them? Would you tell them to not take it, because you suppot the boycott? This is not a hypothetical question. There are several such medications now available or in the pipeline.

    1. Thanks, Susan. As I said in my post, I do not actually support BDS, so the answer for me is easy. If I may, though, to put the question back, I posted this because of my concern that there may be a Palestinian in Nablus or Hebron or Gaza who is ill and needs that same Israeli medication, but the structure of the Occupation would make it impossible for them to have access to it. This is also not a hypothetical situation, based on many reports over the years about denial of medical care.
      I posted this because I believe those behind the BDS movement open up a substantive question for all of us about Israel’s activities in the Palestinian Territories that deserves reflection, even for those of us who may disagree with their tactic.
      If we respond to this challenging tactic responsibly, then we should not challenge the holes in a tactic we already disagree with, but see BDS as a way that we can ask ourselves why and how this situation for the Palestinian without access to the Israeli medication can be the case, and if something should be done about it.
      You may not believe so, but these are ultimately the types of questions I think BDS should force us all to ask.

  2. “The status quo of the Occupation must end, and BDS is the principal way to reach that goal.” Not sure why this position is stated so forcefully. BDS supporters in the real world, myself included, see BDS as a tool that can help end the occupation. Not necessarily the principal way.

    1. Thanks, Eli, and a fair point. I certainly have heard some BDS supporters say it that way, but for purposes of this post, I could have said “an important way” or something like that. Will keep it as is, rather than edit it away, but appreciate your pointing that out. Will help for working through and writing about similar problems.

  3. The “occupation,” as defined by the Arabs, is a lie. BDS is a bigoted and hypothetical movement designed to eliminate the Jewish State. There is no grey there. Those are the facts.

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